Friday, July 3, 2009

Ghana, Gambia sign MOU on 2005 deaths, renew ties

Ghana and Gambia on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to put their estranged relationship to rest and renew friendly ties following a joint UN/ECOWAS Report that ruled out Gambia's complicity in the deaths and disappearance of Ghanaian nationals in Gambia in 2005.President John Atta Mills and President Yahyah Jammeh of Gambia reaffirmed their condolences to the bereaved families after the signing ceremony in Sirte, Libya.The two presidents are attending the 13th Ordinary Session of the African Union and the asked the issue to be put to rest for the two countries to forge ahead.They described the event as unfortunate and expressed thanks to the United Nations and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) for their roles in establishing the facts of the unfortunate incident. "We are happy to see light at the end," President Mills said."Let's move on from here.... Truth never hides. Like a cork, it will come to the surface when submerged."While expressing his condolences to the families, President Mills called on the two nations to look ahead and forge ahead together to reach the ultimate goal of improving the lot of their peoples. "Let's move on, time is not on our side," President Mills said. President Jammeh, who described Ghana as Gambia's best friend, recalled the friendly relations between the two countries and the mutual assistance each had given the other.He said the issue had been blown out of proportion for political gains and was emphatic that the killings had not come from Gambian security forces.While the government of Gambia suspected ritual killings, Ghanaian leaders staying in both Ghana Town and the Ghana Embassy in Gambia denied knowing the victims with the explanation that the victims had no identification.President Jammeh said there was an initial allegation that 150 Ghanaians had been killed but the report showed that six Ghanaians and two other nationals were killed.President Jammeh said the issue was the greatest accusation he had faced since his assumption of office."We have been treated as villains even at the Commonwealth," President Jammeh said, adding that he would not hesitate to admit the killings if Gambia security forces were responsible."There are about 10,000 Ghanaians making a living in Gambia. I've always been consoled by my clear conscience. We have death penalty in Gambia but we have never implemented it. This issue has hurt me so much.""We are very grateful that this chapter is closed. We have forgotten all we have gone through," President Jammeh said. Under the MOU, the two nations agreed that their governments would co-operate in the exhumation and repatriation of the bodies of the victims to their families in Ghana so that they would be given befitting burials.The Report of the UN-ECOWAS Fact Finding Team, commissioned on August 14, 2008 at the request of the governments of the Gambia and Ghana, acknowledged that the "Gambia is not directly or indirectly complicit in the deaths and disappearances of the Ghanaian nationals concerned." Nevertheless, the Gambian government agreed to make contributions to the families of the six Ghanaians found dead in its territory in conformity with African traditional values shared by both countries. Both Ghana and Gambia pledged to pursue, through all available means, the arrests and persecution of all those involved in the deaths and disappearances of the Ghanaians and other ECOWAS nationals, especially those identified as culprits in the report.Both countries agreed to follow up on any other future leads in the case of those suspected missing.The Report recognised that the dead and the disappeared were victims of a human trafficking scam and because of the regional dimension of the problem, both governments called on ECOWAS member states, with the support of the international community, to intensify efforts to identify and punish known traffickers.The two governments commended the facilitation of the UN and the ECOWAS and the work of the fact-finding team. They expressed optimism that the findings of the report and the implementation of the decisions of their meeting would help to restore and strengthen the traditional cordial bilateral relations between the two countries.The MOU was signed by Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, and his Gambian counterpart Dr Omar Alieu Touray, and witnessed by Mr Ojo Maduekwe, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, who is also the Chairman of ECOWAS Council of Ministers and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary General of the UN.

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